On Saturday, 3/5/22, friends of mine and Russ’ and my Spouse (Barb) who are in the lifestyle gathered together for a celebration of life for Russ at the BDSM club we volunteer at. I created a slideshow, and this is the text of the eulogy I wrote and read for him. It’s not exactly a vanilla kind of eulogy, but it’s honest and from the depths of my soul.
Those of you who are poly know different loved ones play different roles in our lives. And because of all of our “interests in common” here today, I can speak truths and tell you things about Russ that I obviously can’t say in front of vanillas.
Some wounds never fully heal. They can only be taped closed to stop the bleeding, with the hope that gangrene doesn’t set in before a healthy scab forms. And, eventually, they reach a point where you can live with them, since there isn’t any other choice, if living is the goal. You have to embrace the suck.
One day, you might wake up able to breathe again.
Then life goes on.
You learn to live in the moment, and see the moment for what it is, appreciate its beauty, and know that maybe everything’s not okay, but that’s okay. Because life isn’t perfect, and the trick is learning how to breathe again so you can pick out and amplify the moments that take your breath away.
I wrote those words a little over two years ago, not long after Russ and I became a “thing.” I don’t use that word flippantly but trying to sum up what and who we were to each other can’t be encapsulated by one word.
At the time, I had no idea we were enjoying borrowed time. That there would be a “before” I lost Russ.
Those of you who knew me “before-before,” when Russ walked into my life, or even “BEFORE-before-before,” when I lost my previous partner, understand Russ’ arrival in my life was an earth-shaking event.
“Before-before,” when people asked me how I was, I’d say okay, or fine, or vertical. But… I wasn’t okay. I’d hit a maintenance level of existence where I was still breathing, sooo… whatever.
Most people played along and assumed it was due to my chronic pain. I desperately didn’t want to be “that person” who couldn’t talk about anything but their misery. Sometimes, I succeeded. In survival mode, I self-medicated through work and volunteering. I did work on myself. Deep system upgrades and overhauls not visible on the surface. And I love all of you for not dumping my Eeyore self as a friend long before now.
Then I met Russ.
I remember the night he first walked into the office. The little witchy voice in my left ear perked up, put me on alert, and pointed him out in a way it had not spoken to me in for-fucking-ever about anything, good or bad.
I brushed it off and gave Russ the newbie speech. I remember what shirt he wore (I have it), his smile, his sweet blue eyes, how he laughed when I asked him more than once if he understood it was FemDom Friday. I remember everything. I spent the next couple of months trying to ignore the voice, which grew more insistent, until I worked up the courage to ask him about playing.
I told him eeevvvverrrrything. I knew for informed consent I had to disclose all the things. Not once did he shy away or think I was too much, or ask me to change. I warned him I was a workaholic and pushed myself to the point of crashing and sometimes needed to be forced to NOT do things for my own good.
And he smiled and said, okay. Said he enjoyed a challenge. Around him things felt “quiet” in my brain and soul in a way I hadn’t felt in years, or maybe ever.
I was floundering, struggling not to drown when Russ entered my life, reached out those strong arms, and encouraged me to hold on to him because his feet were firmly planted on the bottom and he wasn’t going anywhere. He understood why I had great difficulty processing grief because we had that in common, and bonded over other similarities. There were disclosures on his part, but many I will take to my grave because I promised to hold his secrets, too.
When I explained my personal philosophy of what works for me in D/s and M/s, the Lady and her Knight dynamic, he loved that.
Russ quickly became my rock and I became his center of gravity. He asked me to collar him, fully aware that I consider a collar as serious as a wedding ring.
Those of you who know him know that even in full-on submissive or slave mode, he was definitely not a pushover. I playfully dubbed him my growly pet snuggle attack Viking, and he loved that. Just like he loved he could fluidly incorporate all parts of his personality under the umbrella of being Mine and didn’t have to strictly or arbitrarily pigeonhole himself into any one niche. That just like I wasn’t too much for him, he wasn’t too much for me, either.
He said I was the first person in his life he’d ever had that deep rapport and connection with, that I was the first partner where he felt he could totally be himself without reservation, without feeling self-conscious. That he could talk to me about anything. That our relationship was the “easiest” and most peaceful relationship he’d ever had. That I was the first person who truly understood him—all of him. The first person he’d completely opened up to before.
He loved that he could reveal all his darkness to me and I was not only happy to play with him in those shadows but I’d sometimes run ahead and blaze the trail. That during the times he wanted to lead me deeper into the darkness, either as Mine or in a Toppy mode, I took his hand without hesitation and eagerly followed. He loved he could unlock and expose all the parts of him he’d never felt safe revealing to or unleashing on a partner before, and there I was, lovingly encouraging and nurturing him, with zero judgment. He loved that aspects of our play, as Mine or him in Toppy mode with me as His, could frequently stir him to tears without either of us striking a single blow. He loved being completely vulnerable for and to me, and that I felt safe enough with him to be vulnerable, too.
Because we completely trusted each other.
He said “I love you” first. I knew by the end of the first weekend we played I was in love. I won’t bore you with the whys. But I held back saying it first because I didn’t want him to think I was a boiled-bunny psycho, right?
When I said it back, I’ll never forget the love in his eyes, mixed with complete and utter relief, immediately followed by that beautiful smile.
He loved that our default dynamic, the bedrock of who the two of us were together regardless of what “mode” we were in at any given time, was Ma’am and Her Viking. That he could still serve me even if he was spanking me in Daddy or Sir or Master mode. That even in “vanilla mode” we were still at our cores Ma’am and her Viking and he was serving me, because it wasn’t just what we did but who we are. That our dynamic was 24/7 even though we didn’t live together, because 24/7 didn’t have to be strict all the time—it could be whatever we said it was. That it was something easily manageable within our daily lives, and not something outside of them that we could only do at certain times when we scheduled it.
No one had ever broken things down like that for him before. That we could be collared to each other yet he was still and always Mine. That being an Alpha sub or slave was absolutely a thing. He thrived and flourished in a way he’d never been able to before, finally able to authentically live the way he’d always craved.
When he first asked about switching with me after we’d comfortably settled into our default, he loved unleashing himself on me to vent his own sadistic urges yet I was still, at my core, his Ma’am, and he was still My Viking and still serving Me. That serving me wasn’t an either/or binary—it was “yes, please.” Things he was terrified to do in front of others for fear of being perceived an abusive monster, but for the first time able to sate bottled up needs with a willing, eager partner.
It wasn’t long after I collared him he asked if he could collar me, too. And we both cried when I said yes, because we both understood what it signified–for life.
He felt relieved he no longer had to lock up parts of his personality and needs and desires, or worry about setting the wrong foot over an invisible line—he could be him, and I could be me, and he was Mine—and I was H/his. In the process, we both got everything we wanted and needed from each other. Yes, we could keep it all straight, and that’s all that mattered.
We quickly erased all limits and lines and guardrails between us and just… “were.” With the pandemic we were blessed with so much time alone together that we might not have otherwise had, and for that I am very grateful to the Universe. I think that helped us more quickly plumb those depths in a way we couldn’t with our normal schedules.
He learned to quit asking what he could “buy” for me because I always told him the same thing—I can buy my own shit; give me time. He would surprise me by taking a vacation day to spend with me. Or he’d surprise me by bringing over dinner an extra evening in the middle of the week, even if he’d had a busy day—and sometimes because he’d had a busy day and needed to spend decompression time with me. And he always made time for me when I needed time from him.
We had friendly “payment” wars, where he’d be sneaky and pay for meals when I got up to go to the restroom—or outright grab the check and refuse to let me have it—or buy groceries before I arrived for the weekend to circumvent me chipping in. More than once we had playful “battles” at check-out lines when he’d ask to see my ATM card and then hold it out of my reach while swiping his card, all while laughing that I fell for it YET again.
Russ was a caretaker by nature and by nurture. My Iowa farm boy was the eldest of four. Their father died when he was very young, leaving him to shoulder a heavy burden to help their mother. He grew into a man with a boundless heart and infinite love, who thrived on helping others. He’d get irritated when I wouldn’t let him help me, like when my car threw a belt while I was on the interstate. He wanted to come get me and I said baby, I’m a grown-ass woman with AAA, it’s okay; you’re working, and I’m safe. It’s fine. When I let him help me set up my new generator you’d think he was a kid at Christmas, he was so happy I let him do something for me.
We were planning a collaring ceremony for this April, close to the date when I originally collared him, to publicly collar each other in front of our friends. But what we had was far more than that. We were planning a hand-fasting ceremony for next year.
We had plans. So many plans.
Life-long plans. Because we agreed what we had was absolutely for life. Not long before he died he turned down a lucrative job offer from out of state to remain here, with me.
You got to see some parts of Russ but I was blessed that he allowed me deep below the surface. He was everything you saw, and so much more.
This club is still here, right now, because of Russ. We owe him thanks for that, and he wouldn’t let me publicly give him credit for because that’s not the kind of guy he was. I’m not trying to take away from the efforts or work anyone else put in, because this definitely was a group effort. But Russ kept me going. Covid fucked me up so badly, if Russ (and Barb) hadn’t been there for me, helped me, supported me, I could not have done what I needed to do and the club probably would have closed permanently. I can’t look at a single spot inside this building now and not think of a memory of Russ tied to it.
Russ loved helping with the club, being of service. He would drive over on week nights when I had a class, even after a long day working, just to be with me. He rarely missed them because he said he loved watching me.
In 2017 he had a quadruple bypass. He nearly died in December 2020. He tried to downplay that, because the caretaker didn’t want people taking care of him. At the time, I was the only person besides Russ who knew how sick he really was, and only because I sat in his hospital room talking to his doctors and nurses and he couldn’t deny what they were saying, because even to me he tried to downplay it, at first. Let’s be clear—he nearly died. If he’d waited even a day to go to the hospital, he would have died.
He didn’t want anyone knowing that and asked me to not tell people the full truth because he didn’t want people “making a fuss” over him. I found out from his sisters—who are both nurses, mind you—that Russ didn’t tell them how seriously ill he was. They only found out the full truth later from me. I had to engage “Ma’am” mode in the hospital and in the days after Russ was discharged to force him to let me help. And again when he was admitted in January.
I believe part of that was Russ never before had a partner give him the kind of care he gave others. When he finally realized I was absolutely fucking serious that I wasn’t going anywhere, I sensed a subtle shift in him, and we emerged from that crisis stronger and closer than ever because he knew I meant that this was for life. He talked more about our life-long future together, things he wanted us to do. Together.
When Barb and I were diagnosed with Covid days after Russ was discharged from the hospital the second time, I had to engage “Ma’am” mode again to prevent Russ from coming over to take care of us. He begged me to let him bring us groceries and do things for us. I told him absolutely fucking not because I didn’t even want him on the property for fear of him catching it, especially after what he’d just survived. He still had a frigging PICC line.
When Russ finally got to be with me in person again after a couple of weeks, I’ll never forget how he grabbed me, and how tight and long he held me, and whispered in my ear that I was not allowed to scare him like that again.
This from the man who only a month earlier had spent days in an ICU and nearly died.
That was Russ.
He loved taking care of me and being of service and making me smile. It had been years since I’d laughed so often and so hard. He lived to make me laugh. It felt effortless. He loved that I shared his sense of humor and said I was the first person who seemed to get him like that, too.
When I was officially diagnosed with ADHD he didn’t ridicule me, or blow it off. He asked, “What can I do to help you?” He researched and educated himself and wanted to support me.
He always took great care with me because of my CPTSD and anxiety. He wanted to make sure he didn’t accidentally trigger me. So here’s this man who could viciously shred and maul me in all the good ways, and yet also first made sure he did no harm because he wanted to protect me. Because he loved me.
He was a friend to Barb, too, before she came out and after. When Barbara came out, Russ was one of the first people we told. His response? “Okay, so what do I call her?” And that was it.
Russ loved animals. In the beginning, our little dog, Kiwi, barked and growled at him non-stop. She was a rescue and we think in the past someone with a beard abused her. Russ soon won her over until all we had to do was mention his name, or say, “Uncle Cheesestick,” and she’d search for him. She’d plow over me and Barb to get to Russ when he arrived. Russ mourned with us when our beloved bird, Margarita, passed away.
Russ was never mean or cruel. He was the lovable, funny kind of snarky. If someone acted like a jackass he would meet that energy in spades, but he wasn’t the aggressor. He was like a huge granite monolith—he just was. People didn’t fuck with him because they didn’t see the playful pet snuggle Viking; they saw a quietly confident guy, self-assured without being a domineering asshole. He had nothing to prove. He looked like a biker who could fuck them up if they chose to fuck with him.
And with a third-degree black belt in Judo and thirty years of experience and teaching it, he absolutely could fuck them up, if they so chose.
People rarely chose. He joked that he’d never been in a bar fight but plenty of jackasses had slipped and fallen around him.
He was playful, funny, silly, filthy, brilliant, insightful, intelligent, friendly, creative, articulate. He was inquisitive and loved researching for the joy of learning. He was patient, like when he tried explaining to me, over and over, about the stock market and investing. I’d be in tears because of my ingrained struggle response with “mathing” and he’d patiently start over.
We could talk about any- and everything. We talked all the time. He was an active listener who tried to make sure he was understanding you. He never invalidated me. He was adventurous and spontaneous, but he was also perfectly happy snuggling on the couch watching TV. He loved to snuggle, and one of his favorite things was to lie on the couch with his head in my lap or on my chest, just being Mine. The way that I was his.
We never fought—ever. We never raised our voices to each other in anything but fun or play. He was laid-back and always knew exactly what to say or do to help me down-shift from stressed to calm.
He wasn’t judgmental. He was kind. So damned kind. The kind of guy who tipped above and beyond, even for take-out orders. He always said please and thank you and paid compliments. Iowa nice. He praised people. His humor was never cruel, and when he verbally poked at me it was always friendly and loving, never mean.
He certainly was fearless, because who the hell else would WILLINGLY take ME axe-throwing, or to go shoot archery, right? And yes, he knew the Buck knife story. Much less bottom to me.
Most of you only saw the surface of his bottom side. He was a sweet, snuggly pet, a bashful boy, a playful and silly sometimes-brat, a loving, eager submissive, and a devoted, dedicated slave who wanted nothing more than to do whatever he could to ease My bad pain and take care of Me. He always wanted to do more. He was an amazing cook who never gave himself credit and who constantly looked for new dishes to make for me because during the pandemic that’s one of the few things we could do. We laughed the night he nearly set fire to the kitchen cooking steaks. Most of my pictures of him are either cooking, or eating, or selfies, because that’s about all we could do for most of the pandemic. I was afraid of letting him do too much because I didn’t want him feeling like I was taking advantage of him. He always gently pushed for me to let him do more.
The side most of you never saw was his brilliant, vicious, devious sadist, a creative Dominant, a lovingly stern Master, a tender, playful Daddy, a kinky and talented engineer who took infinite pleasure in inflicting the good kind of pain on me, experimenting, “Let’s see what happens…” With his years in Judo he was like a fucking octopus and I don’t know which of us enjoyed our struggle snuggles more, me or him. Even when he had the PICC line and I was taking care of him and trying to get him to take things easy, even then I couldn’t contain him. He’d flip into a dominant mode and effortlessly flip me into a bottom headspace, and then pin me down one-armed, because he thought I was doing too much and working too hard. I called it his “bottoming from the Top” mode and he got a kick out of that. Because in either mode he was always serving Me as Mine.
He could hit pressure points with his chin and just when I’d think I was gaining ground he’d say, “Aww, that’s adorable, kitten,” and shift position and suddenly he had me all balled up again. You can’t win against a guy who’s literally a trained professional at using gravity as a weapon and hitting people with a planet, as he joked.
He loved playing with rope as a rigger and a bottom. We spent countless hours tying each other and learning. He was so proud of the beautiful frame he built. He wanted to get into pony and puppy play both as a critter and a handler, and I was teaching him that.
He was an eager and willing partner who showed up for me in all the ways I needed and who never shied away. His calming energy grounded and soothed me like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Likewise he learned I easily faced his darkness head-on, unflinching, welcoming it, and provided him the emotional safe harbor he’d never had before.
He was my playful partner in crime. We could never embarrass each other and he loved our fun oneupmanship, something else he’d never had before in a partner.
He was protective and the good kind of territorial, and made me feel safe. He’d buffer me in crowds and protect me. He made me physically feel “small” in good ways for the first time in my life. He had a running joke and say he was going to call me “Daisy” or “Petal” because I was delicate and fragile, like a flower. I’d shoot back that I was fragile like a bomb, and he laughed SO hard when he stumbled across that t-shirt and bought it for me. I’m a big girl but he easily tossed me around like I was a rag doll and that’d never happened to me before.
He said I was beautiful and loved me and my curves even when I didn’t. He was my handsome Viking and was always adorably bashful when I called him that. I loved playing with his “magnificent beard” while we watched TV. He worried about his weight and I didn’t care, because he was always my handsome Viking. He fretted about his health impacting us or our plans, and I reassured him I was there, no matter what. For life. I asked if he’d ever abandon me because of my health and he said no, of course not, and I said well, okay then, there you go.
The first time I took my Viking to one of the Viking events, when I went to introduce him I said, “This is Russ, my—” and my brain vapor-locked and blue screened trying to apply the correct, non-kinky word “—mine. He’s mine.” (Fortunately there’s a large cross-section of kink-adjacent people in that group.) Russ laughed SO hard even though I felt mortified for skipping over “partner” or “boyfriend” and going right to MINE because I was out of practice with vanillas. He thought it was hysterical.
He loved that I was as territorial as he was.
He was Mine.
And he was proud that I was H/his.
This “thing” of ours.
I saved all his texts, from the very first one. On Sept. 2, 2021, we were texting.
Russ: I was in a training today to help ease the poor attitude and irritated feeling about people having to go back into the office. At one point they asked for everyone to post in the Zoom chat a motivational mantra. I waited a few minutes and posted this.
Russ: “Fear not death for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it.”
Me: *laugh/crying emojis*
Russ: I wanted to use… “A rotten branch will be found in every tree…” But that would have hit a little too close to home for several.
Me: “For worms, brave Percy. Fare thee well, great heart. Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk! When that this body did contain a spirit, A kingdom for it was too small a bound, But now two paces of the vilest earth is room enough.”
Me: Get them all referring to their cubicles as that. lol
Russ: Fuck I should have used that! LOL!
Me: Right?? Good ole Shakespeare.
That’s from Henry IV, Part 1: Act 5, Scene 4.
Russ’ quote, the first one, is from the Old Norse Volsunga Saga, c.5
Yes, a Viking quote from the Viking. Shocker, right?
That exchange happened not quite two months… before. Another thing I look back on and wonder if the Universe nudged him.
He took to heart forcing me to relax to just be. He said after his bypass in 2017 that at work they handed his projects to someone else and things went on without him there. So to remember that in 10 or 20 years, none of this matters, and we have to take the time to make this life matter.
I am convinced Russ saved my life. If I hadn’t met him I might not be alive right now, because I’d honestly stopped caring if I woke up. I wasn’t trying to harm myself, it was just a likely byproduct of constantly punishing my body by working at a computer 12-18 hours every day, if I wasn’t volunteering at the club, and never taking time off for “fun.” I have several writer friends my age and younger who’ve had strokes or heart attacks, and I already have one cardiac issue they can’t figure out.
But the pandemic? Stick me at home, unable to volunteer or even go to my weekly D&D game, meaning I had no excuse not to sit at my computer and work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week?
You calculate my odds.
When I met Russ, between my emotional pain and my constant physical pain, my field of fucks about life lay fallow and barren.
Russ taught me how to enjoy life again. Life finally felt overflowing in good ways.
He made an indelible impression on everyone he met and worked with and taught, and on everyone in his family who he loved and who loved him. There are countless things I could tell you about him, the man I know and love, and we’d be here for hours.
He was a devoted dad and a loving, beloved big brother. His siblings have adopted me and I love them and am beyond grateful for them.
He was a good friend, a patient mentor, an enthusiastic teacher.
He was selfless, even to his own detriment.
He was very private for valid reasons, some I knew, some I’ve learned since through his sisters. One of my worries was no one knowing to contact me if something happened to him.
His sisters said Russ told them about me the year PRIOR. A few months after we were together. Yet it was literally that last weekend, that Sunday, when Russ finally told me he’d told them.
I was the love of his life. Being with me finally prompted him to move forward to tie up serious, long-standing personal loose threads, because he finally had a reason to do it.
That last weekend, we talked about our future plans, how he was looking forward to them. About living together.
He also talked about how he’d outlived his father.
He finally made me his grandmother’s brownies that he’d talked for months about baking for me.
I am SO fucking angry at the Universe for stealing Russ from me. From all of us. He was only 55. He promised me he wouldn’t die first and that’s the only promise to me he ever broke.
We were supposed to have the rest of our lives together. We had plans. Life-long plans. He promised to keep me going when I one day lose Barb.
And I am once again not okay. At all.
I know Russ wants me to one day be some semblance of okay again. I don’t know if that’s possible but meeting Russ taught me that “never say never” really is a thing, so I’ll hand it over to the Universe.
I talk to Russ all the time. He comes to me in my dreams, and sends me songs on the radio (even as I wrote this), and chatters at me in my right ear. I’ll do my best to follow his advice and listen when he talks, because my logical, agnostic engineer, on the cusp of Samhain, reached through the thinning veil and dragged me, his eclectic chaos witch, kicking and screaming out of the shallows of my spirituality and into the deep end to teach me how to swim.
He was raised Lutheran but he was agnostic. Yet he was open-minded and never belittled my beliefs, and he admitted there was some “woo-woo” around me, his witch. I know Russ called me to him, to come find him. And I know he hates that I’m hurting.
But none of this feels…real, even though I saw him for myself that night, and stroked his hair, because we just went to Erica and Tim’s wedding. Russ joked about doing a Chewbacca toast, where he’d speak in Wookie and I’d “interpret” what he said, and I was like YEEESSSSS! But then he decided not to do it because he wasn’t sure it’d be appropriate. He laughed over being dubbed “Russ Richardson” on the name card. Later, we slow-danced and he admitted he did not dance, but he danced with me because I asked him to. Because he loved me and it made me happy. It was the first time we danced together in public and not just at home.
And that was less than a month…before. A few weeks. We had so much fun that night. We talked about our future plans.
One reason I put today off was that it hurts soooo fucking much to publicly acknowledge this finality, writing “The End” and closing the last chapter on his life. No happily ever after. That my sweet Viking won’t text or call me late in the evening to give me a heads-up that I need to pack because he’s kidnapping me a day early. That I’ll never watch him sitting on the couch feeding Kiwi her cheese sticks. That he never got to watch certain movies, or finish bingeing TV series we’d started. That he didn’t get to see me publish a book I’d worked on literally since before we’d met and that I bounced ideas off him for.
That he’s not here tonight, standing next to me behind the counter helping out, or DMing scenes, or asking me countless times, “What can I do to help, baby?” That he didn’t get to help finish our Viking shields. He didn’t get to make the woodworking projects he’d planned. That we won’t sing together in the car, or playfully dodge each other in the kitchen on Sunday mornings while we listen to Jimmy Buffett and cook brunch.
That we can’t do everything we’d planned and grow old together.
That all I have left are memories, cherished mementoes, pictures, some clothes, and ashes. I don’t even have him on video saying, “I love you,” even though we said it to each other all the time. And I’ll never get to hear him say it again.
That I’ll never wake up and smile over bite marks either My boy or my Daddy left on me the night before—he was bitey in all his modes, which I loved. Or handprints, or other marks. And then smile even wider when he walks into the bathroom, sees me looking at them in the mirror, then kisses me and possessively grins because H/he put them there.
When that his body did contain a spirit, and a heart, and a loving soul, a kingdom for it was too small a bound.
It viscerally hurts that an urn, even a necklace, is now room enough to contain what’s physically left of Russ’ beautiful, enormous spirit and loving heart. That Russ is…
It feels unreal that the world keeps spinning and people keep living their lives and I want to scream and rage that Russ was here. He lived. He was Mine and I was H/his. And I love him so much and it feels like a lifetime away when he walked into my life and feels like just this morning and not almost 19 weeks ago that I woke up next to him for the last time, that he gently pushed me over and laid his chest on my head to snuggle with me on the couch, that later this morning I hugged him and kissed him and told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me, before I headed home.
I was just with him. But he’s gone.
The last thing we said to each other in person was I love you. At least of all the fuck-ups and regrets in my life that is one I do not have. If we weren’t together at night, we always texted I love you to each other before going to sleep: “I love you. Sweet dreams.”
I’ve begged him every day since that night to stay with me, to walk with me until I one day join him, so we can eventually go on together to whatever’s next. Because he owes me for breaking his promise not to die first. It’s not fair we didn’t have more time. We were both finally at a point in our lives personally and professionally where we felt like we’d hit that magic cruising speed we all long for. And he didn’t get to enjoy it nearly long enough.
His sisters told me I made the last two years of his life the happiest he’d ever been, so I guess that counts for something, right? He peacefully fell asleep on his couch in front of the TV, dreaming sweet dreams, and I can’t ask for better than that for my Viking.
Russ, I know you loved me. I don’t know how or if I’ll be able to re-learn the survival skills I used before I met you, but I’ll try because I want to make you proud of me, baby. But you took such good care of me that I didn’t need them anymore. I’ll do my best to try to embrace the suck even though it still hurts to breathe most days. You’ll always be Mine, just like I’ll always be Yours.
I love you, sweetie. Sweet dreams.
(I love and appreciate all of you for your love and support, for being here today, and thank you for coming tonight. It means a lot to me and to Barb. Please, anyone who wants to say something about Russ, feel free to share.)
* * *
So that’s the eulogy I wrote for him.
I practiced it several times before Saturday night, and managed to make it all the way through it, with a lot of crying. We had a lovely turnout for Russ, and several people spoke about him. My anxiety brain had worried few if any people would show up, and of course my Viking playfully chided me in my right ear as more people showed up than I’d expected. (Yes, Russ, you told me so, stinker.) I spent the next two days immobile on the couch, and today, when I’m posting this, is the first day in nearly a week I’ve managed to sit at my desk and do some actual work.
I also know finally having his memorial isn’t going to mark some magickal turning point where like a plucky Hallmark heroine I move forward and things turn around. But I did finally take the framed picture collage I put on my signing table at Shameless Book Con, which I also put on the table for the memorial (along with the urn and other pictures and items, plus I wore his pop rocket shirt that he LOVED) and placed the collage on the entertainment center in our living room. Before Saturday night the collage picture remained in the box since Shameless, because I knew putting it out would mark a turning point I was nowhere close to being able to acknowledge only 2 weeks after he died. (I have several other framed pictures of him and of us on my desk and altar in my office that I’ve had there.)
Baby steps. A friend reminded me it could be one tiny baby step at a time.
I need to reset my altar. I already have his urn there, along with his leather and eternity collars, and I’ll probably make room to put his pair of dress shoes I have on it, too. (Long story why they mean so much to me and why I’m so grateful his family got them for me, and I really don’t feel like sharing that one at this time, if ever. See? I do have a filter.) I hold his collars and close my eyes and think about our rituals we had, when I’d put one or the other on him, swapping out his day collar. I haven’t been able to bring myself to wear the leather collar he gave me because part of me is afraid I won’t be able to make myself take it off. I take it out and hold it, though, and remember the way he always used to playfully smile when he’d pull it out of his pocket, hold it up, and order me to turn around and hold my hair out of the way so he could lock it on me. Then, once he did, he’d always wrap his arms around me and bite me on the right side of my neck, sometimes just a playful nibble and sometimes a feral clamp of jaws that would nearly unhinge my knees and completely shut down my brain. There were plenty of times where I’d started out fully as Ma’am, just for the Viking to decide he wasn’t feeling particularly subby that night, and then Sir or Daddy (or the Master) popped out and took over the show. I finally learned to recognize that if he talked about a particularly exasperating work day/week in a certain way, chances are Ma’am wouldn’t be making an appearance until later in the weekend, but definitely not that night. LOL Or if he announced he was coming to kidnap me early, that meant Daddy or Sir was definitely in the house because Daddy had to vent a little built-up rage…in good ways. LOL And how once he’d got that out of his system, Ma’am’s sweet Viking was always back in the house.
Every day, though, I wear his day collar, which I made for him, the one that matches mine, along with one of the necklaces with a pendant holding some of his ashes, usually the one with the Vegvisir on it. The Viking compass. I wear them all the time except when I take a shower. I find myself constantly holding the pendant and playing with it, kissing it. I sleep every night with the stuffy he gave me, as well as a teddy bear with his picture on it that his sisters sent me.
I know he’s gone. My brain, however, keeps flashing to various random memories, such as standing at the bathroom sink and brushing my teeth while he walks in and playfully pokes me to slide over so he can get something out of the cabinet.
The lines of muscles and tendons in his legs, his arms, as he reaches for me or stands up from the couch.
How if I was in the kitchen with him, he always made sure I was well out of the way before opening the oven door, and the sound it made when he did.
The lavender-colored sticky note he put on the digital clock display on the stove to block the light, because it shone right into the bedroom doorway and annoyed him. And the night I suggested instead of the box of tea bags he use a sticky note to reduce the risk of accidentally setting one of the boxes on fire if he forgot to move it. And his wide-eyed laugh as he kissed me and told me that was a brilliant suggestion, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it first.
Watching him comb beard butter into his “magnificent beard” after his shower, the scent of it. (I bought a container of it and work it into the ends of my hair so I can close my eyes and smell him, just like I also now use the deodorant he used.)
How I could literally navigate my way through his apartment even if it was pitch dark because a lot of times if I awoke in the middle of the night I’d go use the guest bathroom instead of the master bath so I didn’t risk waking him up. How the carpet felt under my bare feet, and how I knew exactly where I always had to be careful not to step on the tack strips in some of the transitions between carpet and tile because his apartment complex apparently used the world’s shittiest carpet/padding/installer.
How he always used to worry he was “too heavy” for me–an arm or leg or his head–and I’d grab whatever body part it was and pull it tightly against me so he’d just relax as we cuddled. And then he always did.
The way he couldn’t sleep much in the hospital either time, and when I’d arrive when visiting hours opened, after he ate whatever it was I’d brought him (the hospital food suuuuuucked) he’d slide over in the bed and make room for me, and then fall asleep almost instantly snuggled against me. Except for 1/6, when he held me as I cried.
How in the car he nearly always drove and I’d rest my hand on his thigh, or he’d hold my hand.
Snuggling. Sooo much snuggling on the couch, binge-watching our way through the lockdown. And how he loved being the “little spoon” to me like that, with me wrapped around him from behind, frequently having to re-watch episodes or movies because we both fell asleep during it.
How the “comfy couch” would suck us in, and how hard he laughed the first time the damned down-filled back cushions made me suddenly go from a little chilly to fucking roasting ohmygod I’m dying of heatstroke in about .02 seconds.
The way he loved to play with my hair.
How in a restaurant he’d always ask for a booth so we could sit next to each other, or if we couldn’t get a booth, how he could would grab the chair or barstool as I was sitting in it and effortlessly slide me over right next to him like I weighed nothing, moving me exactly where he wanted me to be so he could drape an arm around my shoulders.
How when he’d walk in my front door, his wide smile when he saw me always melted me, like everything had just turned right in his world.
Goddess, I miss that smile.
I think we did right by My Viking on Saturday night. I know he was bashfully grumbling the whole time but understanding it was for us and something we needed to do to honor him, because I know he hates the pain and grief we all feel, and he especially regrets the necessary trauma calling out to me to find him caused to me. But I still view that as a kind of gift, a blessing, even if a dark one. A necessary one. Because he knew it had to be me to find him, and it was him calling out to me to come find him, and you can’t convince me otherwise. Hell, even my therapist agrees with me there, that there are things that are beyond the ability of science to explain at this time.
Maybe my next baby step will be putting away one of the items I retrieved from his apartment that night, things that have been stacked in situ since that horrible night–some of them things I literally have no memory of gathering and bringing home that night because of the filigreed patchwork of trauma-induced dissociation riddling that six-hour block of time from when I found him and called 911 to when Spouse drove me home and pulled into our driveway and I sat there in the car with my feet on the ground, unable to get out, and screamed into the sky for…a while.
I will do my best to keep moving forward one baby step at a time, because I will never forget standing there that night and hearing him whisper, “Breathe,” into my ear.
I hear it even now, his quiet encouragement. And I know how much he loved me and wants me to keep trying.
To keep breathing.
To keep taking baby steps.